Restoring the Boundaries of Love, Part 1

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). He said, "'Let there be light'" (1:3) and "He separated the light from the darkness" (1:4). God separated the waters on earth from the waters above it (1:6-8). He separated land and sea (1:9-13). Though the powerful seas cover about 71% of the earth, God gave them limits. Job summarized these realities, "He has inscribed a circle on the surface of the waters, at the boundary of light and darkness" (Job 26:10). With the essentials of life in place, God made plants, animals and fish after their own separate kinds. He made people distinct from them all (1:11-31).

In His wisdom, God made these physical things different from one another. He established boundaries between them. Even within organisms, He made walls around individual cells so that each can do its unique and important work in sustaining the life of the whole. It is true that essential things cross back and forth through boundaries, such as nutrients through cell walls, but the existence of boundaries is fundamental to how organisms and the universe works. These principles are working all around and within us today.

When His initial work of creation was done, God "planted a garden toward the east in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed" (2:8).  God separated this wonderful garden in the region of Eden from the area outside of it (2:8; 3:22-24). It contained "every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food" (1:9). Within the garden, God created boundaries around the two special trees: "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" and the "tree of life" (2:9, 17; 3:22-24). He told Adam not to eat of the first and gave him a choice about how he would respond. God created Eve and extended to her the same freedom to choose within the boundaries He established.

Over and above all of these physical boundaries are several very important ones that are present but a little harder to see. Through the words of His prophets and Apostles thousands of years later God helps us to look back and see them.

The first boundary is completely in harmony with the core of God's being: love. Among the splendours of Eden, Adam and Eve lived openly within the presence and fellowship of God and His love. God is love and He chose love as the supreme characteristic of fellowship with Him even before He created Adam and Eve: "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will" (Ephesians 1:4-5). People were made to live within the sphere of God's love. Nothing was meant to come between God and His people. Their relationship is special; it is holy in love.

Second, God established a sacred boundary around the marriage union of the man and the woman and within it "they shall become one flesh" (2:24). From the beginning, God meant marriage to be a holy, protected place of love where nothing was to come between a husband and wife living together in His presence. There are things that belong just to them and God.

Third, from godly marriages God sought "godly offspring" (Malachi 2:15). It was God's will that within the bounds of the family, children grow in a nurturing environment of holiness (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:14). Eventually God revealed through Moses, the Law and Jesus and His messengers, that love was to be the hallmark of all human relationships. Sixty percent of the Ten Commandments address consideration of people for others as does the Second Great Commandment, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39).

Fourth, Adam and Eve lived in harmony with the purity and beauty of nature, within the boundary of their environment that could possibly have become the flourishing community of Eden. God's physical provisions and their beauty were a concrete manifestation of His love for them. Everything they needed He lavishly provided within the garden's perimeter. Work came before the Fall and was done in harmony with God, the garden and the animals.

Boundaries Crossed

Adam and Eve's decision in response to God's love and instruction was to cross a boundary He told them to respect. The devil prompted, tempted and deceived them into thinking things were better on the other side. Their decision had profound consequences. Their response placed them and their offspring outside the boundaries of trust and close fellowship with God and brought shame to their lives and strife to their family (Genesis 3:22-4:16ff). Their relationship with their environment changed: "Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden" (4:16). They had to work outside of Eden's garden. The ground was cursed, weeds came into the soil along with the toil required to harvest its fruit for food (3:17-19). Things were not better on the other side.

Outside of Eden, people's numbers increased into nations (10:32). Their common language and skill enabled them to build a city and begin a tower to reach heaven by their own efforts (11:1-9). Consequently God multiplied their languages and established boundaries around the families of the nations, including Israel (Exodus 23:21; Acts 17:26). Though Adam and Eve began life in unity in the garden, nations became divided against each other outside of it. The ultimate crossing of boundaries became war (Genesis 14:1-2ff), the opposite of love.

Boundaries Erased

We live in a world today where boundaries are not only crossed they are being erased. The very thought of personal boundaries is offensive to a self-centred culture of entitlement. This is particularly true of the four invisible boundaries of love highlighted above. The following are observations about them not personal criticisms.

First, the natural worldview has convinced many moderns and postmoderns that God and His love do not exist and, furthermore, there's no spiritual dimension to life. This worldview sees no boundary within which fellowship with God is possible because He doesn't exist. There is no fear of anything coming between one and a God who isn't there. For many people in modern western society, therefore, nothing is sacred. What is there left to do but to get what one can. Contrary to Jesus' teaching in Luke 12:15, commerce says quality of life does consist in the abundance of one's possessions. A modern version of the forbidden tree is the tree of the knowledge of good (evil is an out-dated negative idea). Human knowledge is supreme. The controversial statement of the 5th century BC philosopher Protagoras has become the belief of many, "Man is the measure of all things."

Second, over God's will for the sanctity, security and privacy of marriage and family, millions of people today feel a right and need to peer into the private lives of others and to expose themselves to inappropriate levels of self-disclosure through a bourgeoning number of reality TV programs, entertainment news, gossip magazines and social networks. Though offering a sense of connectedness, they also create unrealistic expectations, discontentment and insecurities within the hearts of individuals, marriages and families. For men and an alarming number of adolescents, Jesus' boundary around lust and visual adultery is gone (cf. Matthew 5:26-28-30). Excessive amounts of information are obscuring the boundary between what is important and what is not. Everything becomes urgent, even things that are not necessarily important. Stress builds.

Third, worldly pressures have broken about fifty percent of marriages and traumatized countless children of divorce. The sanctity, peace, love and unity of their homes have been removed. Statistics show that their emotional stability and academic performance are frequently compromised.

Fourth, even setting aside the controversial matter of global warming, humans are clearly impacting the earth's environment in profound ways. Chemical pollution is a known factor in many health concerns including cancer, allergies and respiratory diseases. Animal habitats are being reduced and many species are threatened with extinction. Division between people accompanies environmental change. The powerful minority of people prospering from concentrating the earth's rich resources into capital gain live securely while millions of powerless people live in uncertainty and abject poverty. To the detriment of many, an elite minority hoard the generous provisions that God created for all as an expression of His power, care and love.

To be continued in Part 2, boundaries of love restored.

Paul Birston

September 2011©

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